Sunday, March 28, 2010
I support the choice of making the corner square at Yonge-Eglinton a ground level public space for people, but it needs a smart renovation plan to make it friendlier and more attractive to use. We certainly don't need more enclosed and restrictive shopping malls, even if they do promise a rooftop green space. As soon as it is deemed private space at ground level, it can be restricted by private security and thereby such rare and valuable public space is lost forever. (Story: http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/03/28/13387896.html )
Its always nice to see a local grassroots group forming to protect city assets (YES = Yonge Eglinton Square) and remind councillors just who owns this city. This is the way democracy should work, everywhere.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Well, despite Mayor Miller and the Transit City advocates best hopes, the provincial McGuinty government have put the brakes on expansion plans for our city. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/785573--miller-outraged-as-budget-sideswipes-gta-transit The only "projects likely to proceed include the Union/Pearson/Georgetown GO Transit link, the Sheppard light rail transit line and the York University line government officials said."
On the plus side, this gives us as a city time to debate the merits of where to invest increasingly scarce monies while the negative is that we will continue to see traffic gridlock and lose time in city building a proper transit system. Truth is, the city should have been building a few kilometers of subway for decades now and we can only blame the lack of vision by former political regimes. Now we are in a near-crisis situation. Influencing this no doubt is this story of poor planning and implementation: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/ttc/article/785438--lawsuit-targets-st-clair-streetcar-route
* A note of the provincial budget: Plans to cut or somehow modify (how isn't clear) the "special diet" for those of social assistance is yet another attack on the poor and margianalized that is being ignored by media and candidates. Where is the fulfillment of the promise to reduce poverty in the province? The rich-poor gap grows yet again.
Rob Ford finally announced his candidacy for Mayor with some predictably wacko ideas, such as cutting in half the number of city councillors. Given that there is already a palpable and evident lack of consultation with constituents when one person represents 50,000 people, this is a further erosion of democracy. Mr. Ford may be able to represent his ward on the cheap since he has deep pockets of his own, but the value of democracy is that any councillor should be able to function in a way that he or she can be of service to constituents.
MAYOR RACE : As of today, there are 26 candidates for Mayor http://app.toronto.ca/vote2010/findByOffice.do?officeType=1&officeName=Mayor and 5 candidates for City Councillor for our ward 18. Dave Meslin, an innovative, experienced and creative political activist ponder how we can have a legitimate debate with so many candidates and is looking for ideas to be inclusive without being ridiculous (See http://meslin.wordpress.com/ ). I find it rather astonishing that of the so-called top 6 mayoral candidates, only Mammoliti and Thompson have any kind of platform or list of top issues on their websites. Don't we expect vision to be top of the list for a Mayor? So far this mayoral race is a sad one.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
NOW Magazine article for this week by Enzo Di Matteo questions "Giambrone's Big Exit? Kicked Around, Councillor Contemplates Dropping Out" http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=174244
Reading the article, the only thing that seems clear is that nothing is clear.
He says "I haven't made a decision yet", while at the same time he muses about leaving politics altogether, noting that there are "lots of opportunities internationally" to do something else. "It's not at all a given he will seek re-election in Davenport, although one close colleague on council thinks he will run" says the article.
"Giambrone suggests that his fall from grace didn't make him any new enemies but just galvanized those already opposed to him". He still claims to have great support.
Given that our current councillor has had his judgement called into question numerous times now on a whole range of issues (lies to the media and public, expensing taxi rides when as TTC Chair he should be promoting public transit, getting caught expensing a personal taxi ride as council business, utilizing city resources to put on his own "On The Rocket" show (is it a campaign on the city dime?*), failure to focus on addressing enormous customer dissatisfaction about TTC service... what am I missing? ... why should his abandoned constituents support any bid for his re-election?
* http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/giambrone-back-aboard-his-streetcar-but-show-could-be-derailed/article1510085/ "Toronto's election rules forbid candidates from using city resources for self-promotion during campaign season"
Just some of the media references calling on Mr. Giambrone to quit are:
Let me be clear. Adam is an intelligent man of great energy, but a man who has exhibited chronic poor judgement and arrogance. Contrary to how he may try to dismiss ward opposition as a few disgruntled residents, the fact is Mr. Giambrone has alienated more than a few segments of the ward. Remember -
No parking on Dundas? - the Lansdowne narrowing fiasco?
All I can say to Adam is:
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Just got back from an extremely well attended public meeting about the Toronto District School Board's plans for the future of West Toronto Collegiate (330 Lansdowne Avenue, just north of College Street). I estimated well over 200 people in attendance and the meeting was covered by Global TV, Now Magazine and Inside Toronto community news.
It seems that many people were made aware of the meeting just this morning, yet cared enough to show up on short notice. (Prior meetings were held in the fall of 2009 but were not as well attended)
Even though the predictable announcement was made that recommendations called for the school to be closed this August, the community gathered together to give a resounding "NO" to that intention. Candidates running for city council, the sitting councillor and the school trustee for the area (Maria Rodrigues) were unanimous in calling for the school to not be closed.
An impressive display by about 30 ESL students carrying signs protesting the closure opened the meeting. Many people talked about the importance of recognizing the need for adult education and continuing education and questioned why that did not seem to be a priority in the analysis and recommendations done by the board.
In a city as diverse as Toronto (180 languages) and a ward where under 40% of the people say their mother tongue is not English and about 24% have no high school education, using the facility for that purpose seems a no-brainer.
There were many questions asked by concerned parents about the immediate plans for their children's education. Most were unsatisfied with the answers given.
The school is a relatively new building (opened in 1972) and is recognized as having full access for the disabled, excellent pool, track and gym facilities, and well utilized 8.5 acre greenspace. The programs in place for special education are recognized as superlative.
There has been declining enrollment, as this is city-wide in many schools.
I have to wonder if this is a natural or engineered phenomenon. As housing stock is gentrified (turned into expensive housing and condos), the population ages and former families are forced to move out to the suburbs, we do see a blip of childless people. Yet, immigration is increasing and there will be new development in former industrial lands nearby. Does it not make sense that we could see a boom in demand for regular education classes in the area? Should educational facilities planning not be looking 20-30 years ahead, rather than responding to a short term budget crunch?
The question in my mind is what kind of community do we want here? Singles in big, dense condominiums or mixed housing that meets the needs of the broad, diverse community?
The kicker is that the school funding formula from the Mike Harris years has a peculiar way of looking at square foot usage: if you have music, arts or special programs, their use is deemed to be 'empty' - so no provincial funding. The Dalton McGuinty ("Education Premier ?") provincial government is acting slowly to revise the formula.
Yet the Toronto District School Board under Chris Spence appears to be acting with unseemly haste to force the process to close schools down and sell off assets to recoup funding gaps. This is hasty, short term thinking in my view. Once an asset is gone - it is gone, and the community will be worse off for it.
There was one recommedation (that was admitted to be outside the scope of the review process) which called for the property to be kept by the TDSB for use by the local community. What this means exactly is unclear as such a recommendation can be easily ignored by the terms of the review process in place. Smoke and mirrors?
How this will all play out is uncertain. Many in the community believe this a 'done deal', even though I was able to get the meeting leaders on record to say it is not.
Fuzzy, but appears there will be a final-final chance for formal deputations to the TDSB:
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Revealing opinion piece by Joe Mihevc, city councillor in St. Paul's (ward 21) - http://www.citytv.com/toronto/citynews/news/local/article/72774--opinion-doing-the-math-on-poverty tells us how our once compassionate social safety net has become "threadbare".
Since the Mike Harris conservatives slashed welfare rates by 22% in 1995 and downloaded all the costs to cash-strapped cities, we have seen life become much bleaker for those on low income. Successive governments have been very slow off the mark to do much that is meaningful to reduce poverty in our society, despite repeated promises.
And it's not just those on social assistance that are suffering more. In fact, we have a new term - the "working poor" - to describe those in insecure employment (no benefits, seasonal, part-time) who work at minimum wage, even at multiple jobs, just to make ends meet.
One-third of the households in our ward (over 6,000) have an income under $30,000. Source: City of Toronto Ward Profiles http://www.toronto.ca/wards2000/pdf/2006/ward18_income_page.pdf
(This information is old (2006), and I suspect it is much worse now as we collectively try to claw our way out of the recession.)
The innovative Stop Community/Food Centre (1884 Davenport Road) has kicked off a new campaign (DO THE MATH) that vividly shows what it's like to live as a single person on low income in today's Toronto. I urge people to check out their website for more information: http://www.dothemath.thestop.org/
- $ 572/month or under $ 7,000 a year for single person on Ontario Works
- $1,020/month or about $12,000 a year for single on Ontario Disability
- $1,429/month or about $17,000 a year for single on minimum wage (35 hrs/week)
Friday, March 19, 2010
"Incumbents have all the advantages" says Sue-Anne Levy in the Toronto Sun: http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/sueann_levy/2010/03/17/13268761.html
Sitting councillors in office can:
- Book and use public facilities to promote their campaigns, even using taxpayer money out of their office budgets, while challengers are prohibited from using the same facilities for their campaigns, even if they want to pay for it themselves
- Use their $53,100 office budgets "to send out glossy newsletters or calendars chock full of their pictures, hold barbeques and other parties this summer" (as Levy says)
- Donate taxpayer money to the charities * of their choice and get 'photo ops' and their names prominently attached to the good deeds (see another story in the Globe and Mail, 'Councillors Spend Thousands in Public Cash On Donations That Boost Their Profile' http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/councillors-spend-thousands-in-public-cash-on-donations-that-boost-their-profile/article1505395/
- Use office budgets to finance taxi rides while not on city business by calling it a "ward survey" Read Toronto Star 'TTC Chair Takes Taxi Home After Taping Show On Streetcar' http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/781032--ttc-chair-takes-taxi-home-after-taping-show-on-streetcar
- Plan events, meetings and announcements in a controlled fashion so as to enhance their profile and candidacy
Aside from the fact that our previous councillor, TTC Chair and failed mayoral candidate, Adam Giambrone, expensed more than $3,000 on cabs last year - something that angers me when we expect such a position to show leadership and promotion of public transit, I find it blatantly unfair that in a hopefully open election, challengers are such 'second class' candidates.
If we want an open, fair and equitable city we must start by ensuring open, fair and equitable elections. We need to sharply reduce the advantages of incumbency.
* Here's an idea to make sure charities in our ward don't suffer. Let's transfer the money from councillor office budgets to a city run local grants program that everyone can apply to. It could be a simple lottery or a well-thought out procedure where points are used to award grants where local neighbourhoods would see the most 'bang for the buck' and would be fair to everyone.
On another related note, we need TERM LIMITS. 30% of city councillors have been on council for more than 20 years (See Eye Weekly, 'Bring On The Toronto Democratic Revolution' http://www.eyeweekly.com/blog/post/82646--bring-on-the-toronto-democratic-revolution ).
When I was a director on non-profit boards, they had a forward-thinking policy of limiting board membership to a few terms, The reason was to ensure fresh ideas and community participation in their deliberations. A board member could always sit out a term and come back if they wished. Why don't we do this with Toronto City Council?
I am strongly in favour of term limits because we are a large city, complex in its diversity and full of talent. Let's share the wealth of that with each other. We need to do this because...
DAVENPORT DESERVES BETTER
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Following all the various news reports closely, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the biggest problem in running as a candidate for political office is CHOOSING which issues to focus on. It must be the same for any councillor, and even more so after he or she is in office.
We live in a very big city (By 2011, Toronto will see a popultion of 2.6 million people, with the GTA as a whole hitting 6.26 million ! Source: Statistics Canada as reported here: http://torontoist.com/2009/03/futurist_toronto_in_2010.php ).
Demographics tells us that your typical Caucasian (me) will be a minority very soon., but that just means that Toronto is very comple and that we are all different in some way. We have over 180 languages served by Toronto's new 311 service ( http://www.toronto.ca/311/languages.htm ).
After all, the city's motto is "DIVERSITY OUR STRENGTH". Diversity means we each have identifiable differences in our backgrounds (examples: ethnicity, culture, language) and in our lifestyles (examples: financial status, sexual orientation, beliefs). We are a people of differences and varieties.
Yet, we have a common value in that we have agreed to treat people equitably based on "race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, disability, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, same sex partnership, age, marital status, family status, immigrant status, receipt of public assistance, political affiliation, religious affiliation, level of literacy, language and/or socio-economic status." (Adopted by Toronto City Council April 2003) This reflects much of what is in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).
This all explains and emphasizes the importance of CHOICE in deciding which issues need to be focussed on. No one person can be everything to all people. Beware the politicians who promise to do everything you want might be a good thing for voters to keep in mind when choosing where their vote goes.
I am reminded of what a poet and musician, Gil Scott-Herron, once said:
"Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something"
This is precisely why our Toronto City Councillors have to be prepared to work with, consult with and engage their constituents. If we want to have a better city for all, we must all contribute in whatever way we can.
In formulating my platform, I resolve to give priority to the issues that most affect my neighbours and my community. Yes, there will be issues that have city-wide significance (such as Transit City) and I will have to take a position on those, but my firm belief is that a city councillor, with the structure we have in place right now, needs to listen to his or her own ward first. We cannot allow our local representative to forget who he or she represents, because...
DAVENPORT DESERVES BETTER !
Sunday, March 14, 2010
So all is well? This is like some late night television infomercial: "And if you buy this...., wait! We'll throw in more good news. Buy this now!"
After Councillor Paula Fletcher's tirade attacking a person making a budget deputation last week, and now with poor budget management, can we trust what we are being sold? I guess we will find out.... after the election.
This is not a professional, transparent, open and accountable way to run a city.
What I would like to see is a formal, legislated, properly and comprehensively audited "STATE OF THE CITY" address by our Mayor every Spring. No more backroom meetings with information known by a few in the inner circle. No more playing games. We need to know where we stand, what the good news and the bad news is. We deserve that kind of respect.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
On Monday, March 8, I attended the first of three sessions run by the city's neutral Toronto Elections group ( http://www.toronto.ca/elections/ ) that tells prospective political candidates or their workers what is allowed or not allowed when you run for political office in Toronto. There will be another session mid summer and one at the end of the election. I saw about 50 people there and it seems this election the city expects a lot more candidates for all the various races.
Since this is the first time I've run for political office (at least since my university days), I am suprised at how easy they make it and all the supports provided.
For instance, if you want to run for Mayor (27 people do so far; Adam Giambrone officially withdrew just yesterday), all you have to do is pay $200. For any one of the 44 city councillor wards, you pay $100 (there are currently 5 people running in our ward; So far, Adam Giambrone is not one of us). For any one of the school trustee wards, the fee is $100.
No matter what campaign you run, you are on the hook to maintain accurate records such as receipts for fundraising, etc. It is serious business with lots of penalties for not complying.
There is even an 'Electronic Financial Filing System (EFFS)' that the city provides for candidates to use! Candidates must provide recipts for all donations to their campaigns and this makes it so easy.
Something many Torontonians probably do not know is that there is a CONTRIBUTION REBATE PROGRAM (for council candidates only) whereby about 75% of the money you donate to a candidate's campaign would be refunded by the city in September, 2011. Surprisingly to me, it's not something that comes back from doing your federal income tax, but rather out of a little known city budget (estimated to be about $3.2 million right now).
So the city seems to be doing everything they can to encourage political participation. Great!
One change this year from previous elections is that donations from unions are not permitted. * Last year public filings show that Adam Giambrone got significant contributions from several unions, (eg Transit union, CUPE, etc). Now financial support will have to come from 'ordinary people'. The maximum donation per individual is $750.
* Note: One loophole is that people who work for political parties or unions can still be paid by their respective groups and then work as free labour on political campaigns. This is how parties like the Liberals or NDP make themselves such a big factor in municipal politics, even though we are not supposed to be seeing party politics at city hall.
People can also donate goods or services to campaigns, but even this has to be tracked and valued too. It is all very transparent and accountable.
So how much will it cost top run a significant campaign? About $30,000 ! Yikes!
The elections people have a formula that is based on 85 cents per eligible elector in any ward. Most wards have about 50,000 people (not all are eligible voters). In Ward 18 last election, sadly only 9,006 people actually voted = a 35% turnout, even though there were a LOT more eligible voters.
The actual LIMIT that any councillor candidate can run in our ward 18 is dependent on updated voters lists that will be issued September 1, 2010. Candidates are not allowed to put up lawn signs until September 30th. The election (voting day) is October 25, 2010 and signs need to be down October 28th.
As of today, the candidates for City Councillor in ward 18 Davenport are:
- KEN WOOD (me)
- Ana Bailao
- Nha Le
- Jack Triolo
- Hema Vyas
So, please participate in the political process at the level of government that will be the one that affects your quality of life most directly: municipal city government. Informed candidates and involved voters will ensure we get the government we deserve. Donate, help out the campaign, get to know your candidates.
I am asking for YOUR VOTE and YOUR HELP because...
DAVENPORT DESERVES BETTER !
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Nope. He announces we now have a $100 million surplus in the budget and we can reduce the expected property taxes from 4% to 2.9% and they can do a better job with a two year operating budget. The media is upset at having been taken in, expecting some kind of monumental news.
Radio commentators are speculating that Miller is trying to promote Shelley Carroll for a mayor run by saying we suddenly have a great budget. Maybe.
What strikes me as plainy scary is that after doom and gloom they 'suddenly' find so much extra money. To find a four times better surplus just now seems to be proof of poor budget money management. Where else could they have saved?
Other than a few bits and pieces, the province continues to ignore: poverty, homelessness, social programs, the deficit, high taxes, and on and on. Mayor Miller tried to say it was good for transit and supporting cities, but that seems wishful thinking to me.
More TTC Scandals : Thanks to The Star, we know that a senior bureaucrat (John Rusio) at the TTC was funnelling $50,000 to his friend/girlfriend? for work that probably didn't need doing (amateur photography). He has been fired and an 'investigation' launched - only after he was outted by the media. What other wastes of tax money is happening there?
The new 'blue ribbon' customer service advisory panel is in trouble before it starts. A York University self-professed poverty student and activist, Krisna Saravanamuttu, is being seen as an unacceptable candidate because of anti-semetic comments and activities ( http://www.cjc.ca/2010/03/08/jewish-group-questions-ttc-advisory-panel-choice-confrontation-incoming-york-student-president-sanctioned/ ).
Sunday, March 7, 2010
They are trying to kick-start debate by having bloggers, columnists and commentators speak to issues relating to our city. It is worth following. Here are some examples:
Why Youth Doesn't Vote : In the last city election (2006), city wide turnout was a mere 39.3% (It was only 35% in Davenport). Anita Li says it is not because youth don't care, but rather: A: They are cynical of politicians who don't follow through on promises and B: There is not easy access to interesting and relevant election information.
*Update article in The Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/863162--the-39-per-cent-problem
My opinion is that this is naive and a false argument. We are stuck with the system we have right now (though it could benefit from some significant changes):
"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time" - Sir Winston Churchill, British politician in a 1947 speech.
Information about the election is available. It is and will be in our major newspapers, on radio call in shows, on television stories as well as online. I believe there will be more information available this election than ever before. The one sticking point - and this affects Davenport - is that it will be almost entirely in English, where less than 40% of people say their mother tongue is English. What about the 25% who speak Portugese? Or the other languages in the ward: Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, French, Punjabi, etc ?
There really is an issue in how we can talk to and more importantly, hear from, our citizens in this ward. I am STRONGLY in favour of more and better consulatation on issues that affect us.
Money Shouldn't Be Everything : Rahul Bhardwaj makes an appeal to not have a negative, everything that is 'bad' about our city campaign that focuses only on money issues, "whether it be municipal finance, spending, taxes or public wages". He says that if we want to have a great city, it takes vision and innovation.
I agree, but only to a certain extent. City government should be all about improving the quality of life for its residents, not just about bigger budgets and growth. There has to be a vision of something greater: where we want to be in 5, 10, 20 years. What we do should reflect our values. However, poor handling of finances and adding burdens of taxes (whether that be in the form of 'user fees' or property taxes) does affect quality of life. The city has to be smarter about where and how money is spent.
The Star's Christopher Hume, a very experienced regular commentator on urban issues and architecture, also did an interesting story about how "Toronto's 'little' details (are) a big deal for residents": http://www.thestar.com/yourcitymycity/article/776192--hume-toronto-s-little-details-a-big-deal-for-residents
He talks about many things I firmly believe in: that we citizens care about it being safe to cross the street, that our snow has been cleared and garbage picked up, that there is somewhere to walk the dog or a bench to sit on. We care about the TTC and whether we can get from point A to point B comfortably and consistently. I think we are willing to pay for that, IF WE GET THE SERVICE !
Make 'Em Work For Your Vote! : Dan Bordonali makes a plea for citizens to not just go for name recognition (Adam Giambrone?), but rather make the effort to conduct the pitch for your vote into a job interview. You are the boss. Ask candidates tough questions, find out if you want them to work for you. It takes work on your part, but it is what will make for a better city.
I agree completely.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
The city budget will be finalized and voted upon April 15-16, so any citizen can contact their councillors and make their opinion known. The details on the budget can be found on the city website here: http://www.toronto.ca/city_budget/index.htm
Right now I am online watching the live presentation of the $280 Billion federal budget that tells us we now have a $54 Billion deficit and noticing that the Conservative MP's are trying to implement a somewhat tough budget to eventually get back to balanced budgets. They are cutting back on foreign aid and arts.
One thing I like is that they are freezing the growth of bureaucracy and may? freeze MP salaries to show leadership. It would be nice if the city followed this example!
What I don't like is that our federal government is completely ignoring poverty, housing, the environment, transit and pretty much any social programs. Why was it okay to generate a gigantic deficit to bail out banks and big corporations, but wrong to generate a relatively much smaller deficit to help real people? I guess this is where I can say I am most definitely NOT a right wing conservative! (were I ever to join any party, which I doubt).
Next up will be the provincial government budget which will be coming up since they prorogued today (Lik calling it hitting 'reset' on your computer). In that one, we will likely not see any money for the TTC and little help for our city, since the province is crying poor too. Although, to be fair, they did help out a lot with that in the last budget. We shall see if Toronto's chronic shortfalls will be rectified (like the downloading of social assistance, which was wrong when Mike Harris did it and is still wrong).
So... we still see a 4% property tax increase and a wide variety of increased user fees. The biggest chunk of the budget is the TTC, which will see another increase... does the money spent on the TTC reflect better service? I think all Toronto's citizens will vote on that come October!